Georgia Summer River Redeye

Fishing for these feisty river bass gets hot with the weather, and access to prime waters can be just a knock away.

As a Thursday workday drew to a close, my thoughts shifted not to the ride home and dinner, but to my next scheduled meeting. Fortunately, this meeting would be with a co-worker and a friend of his, and the agenda would be redeye bass.

The “Coosa” or redeye bass, as it is often referred to, is a unique black-bass species native to north Georgia and northeast Alabama. Though occasionally found in reservoirs and large rivers, the redeye is most often found in small- to medium-sized streams throughout its small range. In waters typically too warm for trout in summer, and flowing faster than preferred by other black bass, the redeye prospers.

My hope was that the redeye would be prospering in Ruff Creek in Chattooga County, where I was headed that Thursday afternoon. Having never fished the stream section before, my co-worker’s friend assured us that his three-quarter-mile stretch of stream, winding through some 200 acres of shaded forest bottomland, would not disappoint.

Donning wading shoes and plenty of bug repellent, we hiked with light spinning gear and pocket-sized tackle boxes onto a barely-visible wooded trail toward the creek. Reaching the slow-moving stream in minutes, it was clearly evident this early summer fishing trip would be more like conditions encountered in mid to late summer. The drought gripping much of the state this year was readily evident on the water of the small stream drainage. Water flows were slow and stringy, green algae abundant, but none of us gave it a second thought. Though earlier than normal, these were typical summer redeye fishing conditions.

In summer, when other black bass may become more subtle in their strikes, redeye often feed more aggressively. Food can be scarce for stream fish during summer’s low water flows, so being fast and aggressive is a necessity for getting regular summertime meals.

This necessity was quickly realized in my first cast of the outing. The only spotted bass of the trip quickly made a pseudo-meal of the 1-inch crawdad imitation I twitched along the bottom.

Naturally colored crawdad jigs in 1/32- or 1/16-oz. sizes are my favored lure choice for redeye, as it is a common prey for them and other stream inhabitants. When water levels rise, especially after rains, I may cast inline spinners like Rooster Tails or Panther Martins to entice strikes. Morning or evening trips usually see an increase in surface activity, so tossing floating insect- or minnow-patterned lures can be the ticket at either end of the day.

As if to reassure me the fish would be feeding aggressively under the low- water conditions, my second cast to the same spot was quickly rewarded with what would be the first of many shadow bass (also called rock bass in Tennessee drainages) to be pulled from the stream before nightfall.

With a bream-shaped body and bass-like mouth, shadow bass can be a common catch on a redeye outing… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is the only fish species I have seen coughing up the remnants of some small mammal it had eaten, as I pulled it from its streambank hideout. The shadow bass’ aggressive nature and deep body shape provides a good fight even in slack stream current.

Another common resident of red- eye streams is the redbreast sunfish. With their bright orange bellies and elongated black ear flap, they can pounce on a lure meant for a redeye at any time. With the next fish being caught, a small redbreast sunfish, barely able to choke down the tiny crawdad imitation, I quickly decided it was time to move upstream.

Redeye fishing usually requires you to cover some water on a trip. You may catch a redeye here or there by setting up shop on a deep pool for an extended period, but the action will be short lived. It’s been my experience, especially in summer, that a redeye is going to slam a bait on the first or second well-placed cast. So don’t spend a lot of time beating a spot to death before moving.

Don’t be hesitant to move, but at the same time do move carefully. Crashing through the brush or water, and boldly silhouetting yourself along the stream edge will quickly send redeye swimming for cover, especially the larger fish. Remember, these fish live in skinny water, where sudden movement may be a heron, kingfisher, raccoon or otter on the hunt.

Carry those careful movements over to your first cast at each new location. Cast at those periphery places closest to you first, before casting into the “sweet spot” of the pool. If you hit the sweet spot first, your cast or subsequent catch may spook those bass that were just feet away. By targeting fish closest to you first, and then casting out from there, you can maximize your catch in an area before moving on.

Though not always possible, it’s best to make your approach to a new hole from downstream. This is a must when wade fishing, as a cloud of sediment floating ahead of you is a sure sign to fish of approaching danger. Most stream fish, including redeye, tend to focus their attention upstream, as this is where food often floats down from. Therefore, approaching from behind should give you an edge over those wary “red eyes.”

Target any woody debris, rocks and undercut banks in the stream, especially those creating a current break. Redeyes are not designed for swimming in water currents for any length of time. Therefore, cover that affords them a good feeding location, while providing rest from the current is preferred.

Shooting my lure just upstream of what looked like a good current break and bouncing it along in front of some downed trees brought only taps from small chubs and minnows. The second and third casts deeper into the cover were met with more of the same. I thought, if these small minnows were daringly foraging in front of what looked like a good redeye ambush point, the resident(s) must not be at home or at least not hungry… time to move.

That next move was rewarded with the first feisty redeye of the trip. With the proverbial “ice broken,” we began catching redeye in just about every pool we encountered. The only thing halting fishing that evening was the onset of nightfall.

In addition to the 20 or so redeye landed, we pulled six other fish species from the water that evening. It’s not uncommon to catch eight to 10 different species in addition to redeye on a trip. Bluegill, redbreast, longear, green and spotted sunfish, as well as shadow bass, spotted bass and the occasional largemouth can add another dimension of satisfaction to an outing.

We had no problem catching redeye on the Ruff Creek trip, nor trips to John’s Creek, East Fork Little River, Little Armuchee Creek and the upper mainstem of the Chattooga River in northwest Georgia, but like usual, larger individuals were at a premium. This should be expected, as most redeye bass caught in any given stream will weigh less than a pound. The Georgia state record for the species is only slightly less than 3 pounds, so a redeye of a pound or better should be considered a good fish. Keep in mind it’s all relative. Landing a 1-lb. redeye on light tackle should be touted like catching a 6-lb. largemouth, given the Peach States’ worldly record for bucket- mouths (22-lbs., 4-ozs.). I would venture to say most of us don’t (and I really don’t) catch 6-lb. largemouth on every outing, so keep the same in mind while redeye fishing.

Redeye can be caught from a number of north Georgia’s public waters, including streams in the expansive Chattahoochee National Forest, Cohutta Wilderness area, John’s Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and the Otting Tract WMA, to name a few. However, most of the state’s red- eye waters meander through private holdings. For most of us, private waters teeming with redeye don’t run through our backyard, and I am no exception. So like hunting private lands, you must spend some time gaining landowner permission to legally fish these private holdings.

How do you get started lining up a private-property redeye trip? Well, start by asking the people you already know. Redeye streams may flow through your hunting lease, a client’s property, a church member’s weekend getaway or your brother-in-law’s second cousin’s girlfriend’s parents’ place. The drawn-out point to these ramblings is simple; access to great redeye holdings may be as close as someone you see daily or perhaps just occasionally. Regardless of the relation, your odds of successfully gaining private access, to potentially prime redeye waters, is greater with those you already have a connection with (even if it is your out-law’s second something or other). In my case, a co-worker’s friend put me on some good redeye waters for an evening.

If you just don’t have those connections, or want to fish somewhere new, breaking out a map and driving back roads has its merits, too. “Cold- knocking” on a landowner’s door may take a bit of courage for some, but the reward could be well worth a little anxiety. Granted, most will say “no” for any number of reasons, but don’t take it personally… it’s their right. Simply thank them and move on, as the next may say “yes” to a quarter mile or more of prime redeye waters.

When approaching a property owner, first and foremost, be respectful and courteous. Lay the groundwork for your outing by asking questions. Questions like: “Where should I park my vehicle?” “Do you mind if I harvest some fish (if that is your intent)?” “Would you like me to call before I come again?” “Where are your property boundaries?” “May I bring a friend in the future?” are just a few I like to ask landowners on my first visit to any new location. It allows you and the landowner to build a relationship, while laying the foundation for an enjoyable outing.

Don’t be afraid to stop back in or call after you’re done fishing. Take this “second calling” to offer them some of your catch (assuming they already said it was OK), some venison or duck breast from last season, or even one of grandma’s blackberry pies. Forge a good relationship with the landowner, and who knows, your best redeye spot may become your best deer-hunting spot this fall.

The first landowner’s permission can be the hardest to get on a new stream. But if you use a little common sense and are courteous and respectful of the privilege, you may find your fishable redeye waters lengthening over time. Adjoining property owners may extend their welcome to you after learning from their neighbor that you are a considerate and well-mannered angler. On the flip side, leaving cattle gates open, breaking fences, leaving trash or rutting up lawns and pastures usually ends your fishing privilege, and that of future anglers who are told “no” because some previous individual ran the family dog over.

A similar scenario (and no, pets were not harmed in the writing of this article) happened to me at the first place I wanted to redeye fish this year. In fact, this was a place I had success- fully gained permission and fished a
couple years before, but was told “no” this outing, as the last person recently given permission to fish damaged a field gate. I was told they did at least fix it, but they still ruined access to a great location.

All and all, finding a quality place to redeye fish is about the hardest aspect of the game. With a mixed bag of common tackle box lures stuffed in a pocket-sized tackle box or bag, light spinning gear, bug repellent and a little common sense while moving around the stream, you too can easily be fighting small-stream redeye this summer.

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